“We didn’t see he was falling apart…”
“I hate the fact that he felt so alone…”
“It was in plain sight, and we didn’t see it…”
These are comments that we hear a lot from parents and carers on PAPYRUS’s suicide prevention helpline, HOPELINEUK. These quotes, however, have come from David and Ruth Archer, whose son Ben is suffering with suicidal thoughts in Radio Four’s seminal soap opera, The Archers.
The Archers – which has been running for 70 years, has amassed almost 20,000 episodes and is the world’s longest-running soap opera – is known for addressing important and topical issues over the soundwaves to its five million listeners, six days per week.
Originally established in 1951 to educate farmers following World War Two, the show has transformed into a ‘contemporary drama in a rural setting’ – but its educational merit still sits at its heart.
Sadly, we know that suicide affects the farming community disproportionately. In the UK in 2019, 102 suicides by individuals working in agricultural and related trades were registered in England and Wales – accounting for 2.2% of overall suicides that year.
We also know how incredibly important this conversation around suicide is, and The Archers is handling it with care, consideration, and safety at the core – an area in which the show has form.
Following a realistic portrayal of domestic abuse in a storyline which ran from 2014-2016, listeners raised over £100,000 in charitable donations for domestic abuse survivors.
This time the radio soap is shining a spotlight on suicide – the biggest killer of young people in the UK.
The storyline follows Ben Archer, a young student who has been falling behind at university and is struggling with his mental health and thoughts of suicide. Ben displays signs that he is struggling throughout the episodes; using phrases which mirror the voices of the young people that contact our service, HOPELINEUK, every day:
“You would be better off without me…”
“I can’t see a way forward…”
“I’ve messed it up for you, haven’t I?”
It’s following a conversation where Ben was asked directly, “have you had suicidal thoughts?” that his path to recovery begins.
Radio Four, through Ben’s brave story, has brought the subject of suicide into peoples’ homes around the world. It will spark conversations, challenge stigma, and allow people to spot the signs – either in themselves or their loved ones – that they need to have the conversation around suicide.
You only need to look up The Archers on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit and you’ll find hundreds of conversations about Ben’s suicide storyline taking place between loyal listeners the world over.
Whilst The Archers has evolved since the early days of being an educational tool for farmers, it’s refreshing to hear a suicide storyline so deftly told on a show that represents British rural life.
The Archers reflects our society; it’s both escapism and realism; it represents the thoughts, feelings, and mood of a nation. And now, by telling Ben’s story, it could help to save a life.
PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide is the UK charity dedicated the prevention of suicide and the promotion of positive mental health and emotional wellbeing in young people.
Our suicide prevention helpline, HOPELINEUK, is here for anybody aged 35 and under experiencing thoughts of suicide, or anybody concerned for a young person who might be. You can call us for free, confidential, advice and support on 0800 068 4141, text us on 07860 039 967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org